2013 gets off to a cold start

11/01/2013 | Hayley

The forecast for the UK next week is snow, snow and more snow. As the cold weather rolls in, Language Insight has decided to cheer itself up by sharing a couple of hilarious winter-related examples of mistranslation with you!

Snow Blue and the Seven Dwarfs

Everyone knows the story of Snow White, who hides from her evil stepmother by moving in with a house full of dwarfs and playing housekeeper. It has been one of the most-loved fairytales for generations, with a happy ending that sees her riding off with her Prince Charming.

Like many European fairytales, Snow White was collected by the Brothers Grimm after decades of being told in taverns around Europe. Sneewittchen, as it is titled in the original German, is the version we are most familiar with today. Having said that, this edition is quite gritty, with the Evil Queen demanding the huntsman bring back Snow White’s lungs and liver as proof she is dead, and later selling Snow White a lace for her bodice before lacing it so tight the girl faints.

Driven purely by jealousy of Snow’s beauty, other tricks the evil queen tries in order to off her step-daughter include brushing her hair with a poisoned comb. When she is finally caught she is forced to wear a pair of red-hot iron shoes and dance until she is dead. You won’t catch any of this in the Disney version, that’s for sure.

However, even by the Grimms’ standard, the version of Snow White that hit the kids section of China’s book shops in 2010 was far from child-friendly. According to the Global Times, China Friendship Publishing Company and China Media Time were unable to locate the Grimm’s tale in the original German to translate, and so opted to translate a Japanese version. Unfortunately, the edition they chose was by Kiryu Misao and was an erotic retelling.

In this particular take on the classic tale, Snow White was more Snow Blue with the seven dwarfs and even her father, while the prince suffers necrophilia. Even worse, the resulting translation went straight on to the shelves of children’s book stores. Upon realising the mistake, the publishers hastily pulled the book and asked all shops to send their copies back.

We can only assume the fairytale put a new spin on bedtime reading.

“Get me a snowdog”

Anyone who has seen the 1992 movie Beethoven will have fallen in love with its St Bernard star. The dog is huge in size, as it has been bred to rescue hikers and climbers lost in the Alpines.

It is not unusual for intrepid explorers to ask for a St Bernard to accompany them when they set about tackling the snowy peaks of the Swiss Alps, particularly as the canines are known for carrying a barrel of brandy around their necks in case of emergencies. So, the tourist office of Sion in Switzerland didn’t raise an eyebrow when a Dutch traveller asked them about hiring “chiens a neige” – snowdogs.

According to the Guardian, the only concern the staff had was that they didn’t have any snowdogs the man could hire. However, wanting to provide the best possible service to holidaymakers, they rang around all the local kennels in order to select the right dog.

Of course, a proper snowdog is not just a large animal, but one that has been specially trained to assist in search and rescue missions. Eventually, the tourist office got hold of someone who knew someone who trained snowdogs, but they were based 100 kms away. It was the best they could offer.

Upon passing on the information to the Dutch traveller, he replied aghast: “But they told me I could hire a chien a neige at any garage!” After all that, it became clear he had mispronounced the word ‘chaines’ – or chains – leading the travel office to think he wanted to hire snowdogs, when in fact he wanted snow chains for his car.

We hope these tales of wintery mistranslations have cheered you up – and remember to wrap up warm! We’re in for a cold week!

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